Horses are honest creatures–incapable of acting other than how they truly feel. And because of that, they’re very good barometers of whether we’re mandating or sharing our goals with them.
At a recent workshop, one of the participants—let’s call him Sam—was trying to get one of the horses to move in a particular direction.
When the horse resisted, Sam did what we all tend to do and got more insistent. So the horse resisted more, and Sam insisted more. The body language of the horse was saying that she thought Sam was “telling her what to do” without any good reason (to her) behind it. While the task was ultimately completed, the horse had her ears back the whole time and was not cooperative in the least. Sam, however, believed he was just being assertive.
According to Kouzes & Posner’s The Leadership Challenge, one of the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” is to ‘inspire a shared vision.” In this case, while Sam had a vision in his mind, he failed to inspire his “follower” (the horse) to share that vision and to complete it with him. (Diag. A)
The same thing happens in offices on a daily basis all over the world. The boss comes down with a new mandate and the employees just have to do it. This adds fuel to the “resistance-insistence cycle” and the result is that, yes, the tasks get accomplished, but you end up with employees who are not engaged, not willing to go the extra mile, and who really only look at their job as a j.o.b.
In Diagram A, the leader gives a directive, but since the follower isn’t on board, he resists following. So the leader insists and the follower resists.
In Diagram B, the leader immediately starts making his way toward the follower. The leader continues with her on her path, then gradually causes his idea to become her idea and it leads to the desired outcome. (Notice how much smoother this path is for both parties!)
Now, the great thing about working with horses is that once you recognize this pattern, you can change it and immediately see different results. When you change, the response of the horse changes. In other words, you can PRACTICE getting the desired results with a very honest and forgiving horse, rather than spending time and money practicing it at work on people who may or may not give you honest feedback for fear of reprisal.
So what’s your preferred way to be led? To lead? Which is more effective in the long run? How could you use this information in your workplace?